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Do workplace dress codes need a refresh?

10 May 2017

Story by
Sarah Rice


MP’s met again last week to discuss the laws around UK workplace dress code following a series of petitions to have the law changed. Stemming from a number of unsavoury headlines, namely the case of a receptionist who was sent home without pay after refusing to wear heels, questions have arisen over the mis-use of dress codes and the possibilities of discrimination as a result.

The MP’s discussed cases of women being told to wear more revealing clothing in an effort to sell to male customers, bleach their hair blond and make sure their lipstick was the same shade as their colleagues.

Labour’s Gill Furniss added to the debate by recounting how her daughter was left with a fractured foot after being made to wear heels in a retail job.

So has anything changed? The government have discussed the topic and concluded that the law will in fact remain the same as current legislation is considered ‘adequate’ in its prevention of gender-based discrimination. The Government will, however, be working on new workplace guidelines in conjunction with the Government Equalities Office, Acas, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Health and Safety Executive.

News of our unchanged law has sparked degrees of disappointment from petitioners who had hoped for drastic changes, whilst others comment on the requirement of these codes if appropriate standards of workwear are to be maintained. Turbulence in opinions is expected to remain volatile for the foreseeable future but handling of the topic on a case-by-case basis need not be, so what is the best approach?

What can HR do?

  1. Continually re-educate

As with any policy, law or regulation, there is a need for employers to continually re-educate themselves in order to remain current and compliant. Problems around dress-codes have presented themselves, ultimately, in a minority of the UK’s businesses which suggests a large amount of organisations have been able to enforce dress-codes in a practical and inoffensive way.

  1. Consider the roles practical demands

If employers are actively considering and updating their dress codes with the changing demands of the workplace then they can avoid problems presenting themselves. HR should consider whether the dress code reflects the practical demands of the role someone is working versus demands which may risk staff feeling they are being unfairly targeted. Actively addressing the relevance of the rules is the most proactive way of preventing problems prior to the problem presenting itself.

  1. Ask your workforce

Finally, employers should address their employees directly when considering their dress code policy. This can be done through anonymous surveys asking employees how they feel about aspects of the dress code and whether they feel pressurised to dress a certain way, e.g. wear makeup. By establishing areas of concern amongst their staff, HR will be better prepared to tackle any problems.



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